The football part of the Super Bowl has recently taken a back seat to the advertising gridiron that plays out 30 seconds at a time as companies battle it out for Monday morning water cooler bragging rights. The spends are through the roof, the reach is unparalleled, and once it was established that the ads were going to be better than usual, people started to tune in just for them, all but eliminating the TiVo Effect.
Then, a few years ago, GoDaddy figured out that by making their commercials ‘too hot for TV’ and thus getting them banned from airing during the Super Bowl itself, they could actually get all the exposure of a typical Super Bowl commercial (if not more) without spending the millions of dollars required for 30 seconds of airtime. GoDaddy did create a toned down version that aired during the Super Bowl to entice offline viewers to watch the ‘unedited’ commercial on their website, but the simple addition of an online only version sent conversion rates through the roof.
As with any successful strategy, other companies soon followed, and ‘too hot for TV’ has since become an all too common tactic. The latest group to test out ‘too hot for TV’ advertising is PETA, and their pro-vegetarian ad, which features “a bevy of beauties who are powerless to resist the temptation of veggie love” was quickly shut down by NBC for being too hot for the Super Bowl.
In response, I’m putting my foot down to say that I’m tired of this tactic, and I’m tired of companies not giving consumers enough credit to know when we’re being taken for a ride. Does anyone actually think PETA was under the impression that NBC was just going to let this one air during the most watched television event of the year?
Networks need to figure out that they’re being played by the creators of these commercials, and stop giving elaborate and detailed responses as to why the ads are deemed ‘too hot for TV’. These rejection letters just provide third party verification of the ads hotness, and since NBC once again fell into the trap, they provided PETA with plenty of ammunition for a follow up campaign. According to an email from Victoria Morgan, the Vice President of Advertising Standards at NBC Universal:
The PETA spot submitted to Advertising Standards depicts a level of sexuality exceeding our standards. Listed below are the edits that need to be made. Before finalizing the spot, we would like to view a QuickTime file as well as a DVD with high resolution.
- :12 – :13 – Licking pumpkin
- :13 – :14 – Touching her breast with her hand while eating broccoli
- :19 – Pumpkin from behind between legs
- :21 – Rubbing pelvic region with pumpkin
- :22 – Screwing herself with broccoli (fuzzy)
- :23 – Asparagus on her lap appearing as if it is ready to be inserted into vagina
- :26 – Licking eggplant
- :26 – Rubbing asparagus on breast
Vice President, Advertising Standards
In response, PETA, being the smart and press hungry organization that they are, just took the letter and posted it on their blog and on their website, resulting in a huge amount of additional exposure for the ad.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the PETA ad, and think it’s got just enough controversy to be a perfect conversation starter, I just don’t think NBC needed to add any fuel to the fire. In addition, I love that PETA created a bunch of additional content to go along with the ad that allowed them to extend this increased exposure, including a behind the scenes video that is almost as good as the original:
What I propose to companies thinking of doing ‘too hot for TV’ advertising is this: Rather than ‘submitting’ the ad to the network responsible for the Super Bowl and pretending that you actually expect it to pass, just create a sexy ad and promote it online as online only content. You can make the banners as risqué as you want, you can spend 1/100th of what you would spend on a Super Bowl commercial to literally blanket the entire web for a few days with your message, and by using this tactic, you’ll end up reaching the same number of viewers without having to resort to the silly games involved in submitting a commercial that you never actually expect to air. Sure, you pass up on the opportunity for the free press that a rejection letter provides, but when the networks finally wise up and stop providing you with these letters, you’ll already be ahead of the curve and on to the next latest and greatest tactic.
- Sexy ads draw in a huge audience and encourage social sharing.
- The web is a less controlled environment, and companies can take more risks with their advertising.
- PETA used a ‘making of’ video, additional cuts, and other online only content to extend the reach of the campaign.
- ‘Too hot for TV’ ads assume that the consumer is ignorant and can’t figure out that the company never actually expected the ad to air on TV.
- Making an ad online only narrows your target market to tech savvy users.
- Companies push the boundaries of online only advertising and use the additional capabilities of web video to their advantage.